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Media Theory Revision Guide

All A level theorists covered alongside revision summaries and exam practise exercises.




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Passive women: Camille, Clare and Julie

van Zoonen

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Female passivity in the media, van Zoonen argues, reflects female powerlessness in the real world, with male gaze invites and female victim stereotypes helping to nurture femininity as a secondary social presence.

Undoubtedly, a highly conservative set of French gender norms are reflected by a range of problematic female characters in The Returned. Adele’s inability to adjust to Simon’s death, for example, is signalled when we see her in her wedding dress, her reliance on Simon reflecting a weak and self-victimising female characterisation. 

As such, Adele presents as a paralysed character, frozen in time as a result of male abandonment - a damsel in distress who awaits the rescuing return of her Proppian hero, Simon.

Claire, too, demonstrates female passivity when she phones Jerome when Camille reappears, her cry for help positioning Claire within a story arc that ultimately places her as a secondary figure to Jerome and Pierre’s more active presence regarding Camille’s reappearance. 

Claire, moreover, is positioned as a romantic prize within the show’s menage et trois story arc: a largely passive character trapped between the affections, past and present, of Jerome and Pierre.

Conversely, Julie as the town’s doctor presents, initially at least, as a self-determining character. That independence, however, is soon side-lined by a need to become both mother and carer for Victor. Her lack of happiness as a non-mother, signalled via the use of oversized costuming and dishevelled hair, both of which give way to more positive gesture codes when she finally accepts responsibility for Victor.

The ideological messaging of the text at this juncture cannot be clearer: women, even intelligent women who are career-minded, aren’t allowed to be happy unless they are fulfilled by motherhood.

Proppian Princess

A passive and dependent female stereotype, problematic because they typically suggest that women need to be rescued by males, or that females need a man to be happy.

Media terminology used

Passive femininity

van Zoonen suggests that media products encode women as passive subjects, using soft focus photography or invitational gesture codes to suggest female vulnerability.

Madonna/whore stereotypes

The whore stereotype is a highly sexualised version of womanhood. In contrast, Madonna stereotypes emphasise innocence and incorruptibility as a socially desired female ideal.

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